When you search for a church to attend, by what benchmarks do you measure each one?
For most, purely earthly criteria take precedence. Is the building comfortable? Do they have a spacious nursery? What are their social and recreational offerings? Does their music service sound pleasant? Will the preachers and teachers make me feel good and keep me entertained?
Rarely will the question be asked: does this church function as God designed? Or, does this church love, teach, and attempt to live in accordance with divine truth?
Rarer still are those who ask: what does this church need from me? These days, religion, like everything else in this world, is less about self-denial/God-centered-service and more about self-gratification. Hence, forget about the church’s needs; what about my needs or my family’s needs?
By contrast, Paul described himself as “jealous” for the church “with godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11.2). In the original language, jealous signifies a burning enthusiasm (see Thayer, 271). In verse 28, Paul revealed that he “daily” lived with “deep concern for all the churches.” In effect, his thought every morning was this: how can I help the church I love?
There is no doubt that the church has needs (cf. Eph. 4.15-16). First and foremost, of course, it needs you. To be more specific, here is what the church needs from you.
(1) It needs you to be converted. Just being a warm body in the pews does nothing for the church — and not much more for you either. Your spiritual well-being (and that of the church’s) hinges upon your conversion to the cause of Christ. Otherwise, you will not have your “sins…blotted out” (Acts 3.19) and you will “by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18.3).
Conversion literally has to do with “a turning from and a turning to” (Vine, 128). Hence, you may come to church services as you are; but, if you wish to stay, you must turn from your life of self and sin, and turn to the will of God (cf. 1 Thess. 1.9; Acts 14.14-16). A change is required — in mindset, in dedication, in conduct, in habits, etc. Only then will the church be able to “grow into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2.19-22).
On the other hand, those who “creep into” the church without being converted wreak great destruction upon her well-being (Jude 4ff). To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote:
“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard him and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus; that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4.17-24).
(2) It needs you to be biblically informed. Like it or not, Christianity is a religion of instruction (Jn. 6.44-45). As such, we must never underestimate the necessity of Bible knowledge (Phil. 3.8; 1 Jn. 2.14; 2 Pt. 1.2; 3.18; 2.20).
Ignorance, conversely, is a blight on the human condition. Lack of knowledge destroys (Hos. 4.6); causes people to err (Mt. 22.29); leads to committing atrocious acts without pangs of conscience (1 Cor. 2.8; Acts 3.17; Lk. 23.34); causes man to be alienated from God (Eph. 4.18); leads to worshipping God in vain (Acts 17.23); incites rebellion (Rm. 10.3); and foments lusts (2 These. 1.7-9).
What’s more, ignorance leads to contempt; and contempt, to division. A church ever plagued by division will surely fail (Mt. 12.25).
Here are a few keys to increasing your spiritual knowledge:
(a) fear God (Prov. 1.7);
(b) regularly attend worship and Bible studies with the Lord’s people (Heb. 10.23-25);
(c) read and meditate frequently upon the sacred writings (Ps. 1.2; 1 Tim. 4.13);
(d) memorize the scriptures, as Jesus did (Mt. 4.4; cf. 1 Tim. 4.15-16);
(e) share what you have gleaned with others (1 Tim. 4.6).
By acquiring the knowledge of the Scriptures, you are helping the church grow (Eph. 4.11-12).
(3) It needs you to be faithful. Knowledge is useful, but knowledge without conviction tends toward guile. Accordingly, faith is needed.
Faith is the result of hearing the word of God (Rm. 10.17). It entails
(1) accepting that word as true (Acts 13.12);
(2) trusting the character of the one who spoke it (2 Tim. 1.12); and
(3) and conforming your life to its message (Heb. 3.18-19).
A church is blessed which consists of “faithful brethren in Christ” (Col. 1.2). Churches are strengthened by faith (Acts 16.5). In truth, the eternal kingdom will only consist of those who are “faithful until death” (Rev. 2.10).
Hence, the Lord’s church is looking for a member who is willing to follow God’s word with dedication and conviction, and without compromise (cf. Gal. 1.6-9). Anything less than this is undesirable to her (cf. Mt. 5.17-20).
(4) It needs you to be a peacemaker. Naturally, friction may arise in any gathering of individuals. And the Lord’s church has certainly had its fair share of carnal disputes (cf. Acts 6.1-6; 15.1ff; 1 Cor. 1.10ff).
Consequently, the ability to make peace between rivaling factions is a blessing of no small magnitude (Mt. 5.9). Without it, the early church might well have been torn asunder during its nascent years.
Nonetheless, peacemaking is no easy task. It takes persistent effort. Paul instructed the Ephesian church to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.3). In other words, peace is not something that “just happens.” It demands diligent care in everything we do.
Furthermore, peacemaking sometimes requires us to lose our personal preferences; to yield to the comforts of others (cf. Rm. 12.10-16; Phil. 2.1-4). As such, maintaining social harmony in a church necessitates contrition, compassion, composure, and, above all, charity.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jms. 3.13-18).
(5) It needs you to work.
One of the most winsome episodes in the Old Testament annals occurs during the restoration of the city of Jerusalem. The entire third chapter of the book of Nehemiah stands out especially. The prophet records the names of numerous families who participated in the work — each one being described as working “next to him…next to him…next to him,” etc. In the fourth chapter, he concludes:
“So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared. At the same time I also said to the people, ‘Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.’ So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who follows me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing” (vv. 21-23).
Not only were they workers, they were workers together (cf. 1 Cor. 3.9; 2 Cor. 6.1).
In like manner, keeping a church together is not a one-man job. It takes “every part doing its share” (Eph. 4.16), each brother or sister working “next to” each other.
The fruit-bearing Christian asks: does the church need me to lead singing, prayers, or the collection? Does it need me to teach a class or even preach? Can I help clean the building? What about mowing the lawn, or taking care of the exterior? Can I put together flyers for our meetings? What can I do to chip in?
We work hard for ourselves, but let us not forget to work for the Lord too.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15.58).
The church can only act through you — the individual. You can help the church grow through your own personal appointments, devised and executed by you (cf. Acts 8.5-6, 26-40; 6.8-11; 7.1-60; 9.17-18; 22.12-16), or through more coordinated campaigns, devised and executed congregationally (cf. Acts 2.1-4, 11; 5.12-16, 42; 6.1; 8.1-4). In either case, she needs you!
Many complain that the church is not providing something they need — that it lacks vitality. The solution is not to drift around from church to church until you settle on one that suits your needs. Stick around. Put more effort into building it up. Never underestimate the power of a single individual or family to give the church what she needs!
“When the church seems dead; The work is slow, When attendance is off The songs too low, When the prayers of the saints Lack fervor and power When the preacher’s sermon Seems stale and sour; Do you think then; or Look with critical eye Why not ask yourself? Lord, is it I?”
(Source Unknown; see Mt. 26.22)
This is a series of articles, with the following parts:
The Lord's Church (5): Its Needs
Thayer, J. H. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. T. & T. Clark, 1958. Vine, W.E. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985.